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NC group acquires small Columbia firm with big connections

North Carolina’s largest law firm grew by three lawyers, one city and an unknown number of Palmetto state political connections last week when Winston-Salem-based Womble Carlyle merged with the boutique firm Hall & Bowers of Columbia.

The lawyers of Hall & Bowers — Kevin Hall, Todd Carroll and Butch Bowers — have deep roots within the South Carolina political establishment, including relationships with South Carolina’s sitting U.S. senators and Republican congressmen, and the state’s current and former governors.

The firm serves as special counsel to Gov. Nikki Haley and represented former Gov. Mark Sanford during impeachment hearings in 2009. Also, Hall is nationally known as an adviser to Republican power broker U.S. Sen. Jim DeMint. The three lawyers left Columbia’s Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough to form their practice in 2009. Hall and Bowers were partners at the firm, while Carroll was an associate. Hall & Bowers’ practice focuses primarily on business litigation, public policy, administrative and regulatory law, constitutional litigation, and campaign finance and election law.

The merger allows Womble Carlyle to connect the dots across South Carolina from its Greenville office, which opened in 1999, to the Charleston office established in May 2011 after the firm’s merger with Buist Moore Smythe McGee.

Kenneth Young, of the legal placement firm Young Mayden, helped broker both mergers. He described the lawyers at Hall & Bowers as good litigators with a strong governmental practice. “They are as politically well-connected as any attorneys in Columbia,” said Young, who worked with Hall and Bowers as partners at Nelson Mullins.

Keith Vaughan, managing partner at Womble Carlyle, said the firm began seeking a presence in Columbia after moving into Charleston last year. Hall & Bowers’ familiarity with governmental and regulatory law as well as its impressive client list made it attractive.

“They fully understand all of the nuances of South Carolina,” he said. “Every state has its own general processes, and processes are populated by people. It’s always important to not only have individuals who understand how the processes work, but also the people.”

Vaughan said the firm’s presence in Columbia boosts its chances to grow along with the state’s economy: “It creates a lot of opportunities for business development for existing clients and also, as time goes on, economic development opportunities as well.”

Womble Carlyle has more than 550 lawyers in offices in the Carolinas, Georgia, Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, California and Washington, D.C. About 45 lawyers work in the Charleston office, and about 70 in Greenville.

Vaughan said the firm has no specific plans to expand its Columbia office, but may add lawyers as the opportunity arises. “We are in a strategic planning process now,” he said. “Our ultimate strategic plan has not been fleshed out. Part of that plan will be an establishment of a very strong presence in North and South Carolina.”

Kevin Hall said he did not anticipate Hall & Bowers merging with a larger firm when it opened three years ago.

“It was a pleasant surprise that the opportunity was a fit for both of us,” he said.

Hall is one of South Carolina’s best-known political lawyers. Bowers is the former chairman of the South Carolina State Election Commission and a former special counsel for voting matters for the U.S. Department of Justice. He served as lead counsel in Florida for Sen. John McCain’s presidential campaign.

Hall said Womble Carlyle will gain from his firm’s presence in Columbia.

“So much of what we do has a public policy dimension,” he said. “Just being physically present with three guys here — it works well.”

Hall & Bowers recently completed a renovation of new offices in the Lorick House, a 19th-century Victorian mansion on the National Register of Historic Places. Hall said they look forward to remaining in the space.

“It lends itself very well to our office needs, but also to being able to be gracious and hospitable to folks who come and visit,” he said. “It will work great in terms of the pure practical needs of folks coming to town.”

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